OK, it’s a little odd to begin an article with, “The importance of breathing…”, my original title for this post. However, in working with clients with chronic back pain, proper, deliberate breathing is one of the simplest and most high-impact topics we discuss.
Let’s begin with some basic physiology. When we experience pain, we reflexively tighten up, or contract, our muscles. It can even happen when you anticipate pain, as I used to experience with speed bumps. The anticipation or experience of pain causes us to try to protect ourselves and the way our body does this is to tighten the muscles around the affected area. The other thing we do, which is a component of the stress response, is to shorten our breathing.
The result of these two occurrences is a body with tight muscles and shortened breath. This leads to increased pain and entry into the pain cycle.
Now, a muscle tightens when the brain sends a signal to it to do so. This tends to happen automatically, or without our deliberate attempt. However, we can choose to use our brain to instead relax a muscle and take deep, diaphragmatic breaths.
So, the next time you feel pain in your back or neck, notice if you are tightening muscles unnecessarily, and notice if your breath is shallow or deep. Then, take control by deliberately taking a deep diaphragmatic breath, followed by a slow, steady exhale. As you exhale, notice any tight or painful muscles, and deliberately relax these muscles.